Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Writing conferences

I was about to register for the Writers' Digest NYC conference, mostly for the chance to pitch my novel to agents. Pitching seems like a very efficient way to meet agents and see if they're a good fit for me and my work. But in searching your blog for references to conferences, it seems that you hate pitch sessions and consider them a poor way to make contact with agents.

Would you recommend the WD Conference (or are there better ones) or would I be better off spending my time looking at agent directories and sending queries to those who seem appropriate?

I'm not sure why spending hundreds of dollars and hours of time waiting in line to pitch an agent seems more efficient than emailing a query, but maybe I'm missing something.

I think pitching is the least effective thing you can do at a conference.

Here are some things that I think are more effective:

A good writing conference has panel discussions (with agents and editors) and you'll learn a lot just from listening.  Plus, you'll also have a chance to ask questions at the end of the panel, and that can be useful as well.

Agents also are usually pretty willing to answer questions after a panel (if they're short and don't require that us know much about your work.)

Example: My novel is 65K, and a YA thriller. Is the word count ok?
Example: Your website says you're closed to queries except by referral. Does coming to this writing conference or pitching you here count as a referral?

And when I'm at a conference you can usually find me at the bar, and I'll pretty much answer any question if it comes with a shot of bourbon.
Q: I'm getting a lot of rejections on my query. I don't know why.
A: Do you have your query with you? Show me.

Writing conferences are good for a lot of other things not related to pitching as well.


Joyce Tremel said...

The Pennwriters Conference in May always has an excellent mix of panels, including panels with agents and editors. I believe it's in Lancaster this year, and next year it will be in Pittsburgh (they alternate years). It's also where I met Janet--I was her "Penn Pal!"

Jason Magnason said...

"Writing conferences are good for a lot of other things not related to pitching as well."

Like having the opportunity to buy Janet a drink at the Bar!

So I am still new to writing. I have only been trying since last November. Although I have written a book and have moved onto writing the second one, would a writing conference do me any good?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

How will I know it's you at the bar unless your name tag is a fishing license.
Is that you drinking chum juice and vodka?
Are you the one using a rasp instead of a toothpick?
Is that you behind the Brooks mask?
I know, I know, your the queen at the end of the bar with the crooked tiara. Oh, sorry Neil.
I'll look for a fin fanning her fans.
Really Janet, are real or are you Memorex?

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I look forward to attending...some writer's conference or other, someday. Maybe I'll meet some Reiders there! And the Sharque herself, and other agents with whom I've exchanged witticisms on Twitter.

Pitching doesn't sound easy to me. It sounds so not easy to me, I've never even tried to Twitter pitch. Maybe I will when current novel is done; I have something of a grabby line for that one in mind. But as I draw down towards the end, I'm already thinking of issues and tweaks for earlier on, and know it needs quite a lot of work before it'll be ready.

I'm also trying to formulate some question for you guys, about unreliable narrators and really truly knowing who the bad guy is, but I just got up and it isn't gelling.

Julie Weathers said...

Laurie McLean sat at our table at Surrey IWC in October a couple of times. I say our as in Compuserve Books and Writers. We had three or four tables of members there, plus other people we had gathered up. She was very gracious and visited with everyone, asked what they were writing and passed her card out. She told us all to query her and mention Surrey.

I think it does give you an advantage to be able to say, "Hi, I met you at ABC conference. You were interested in my book about the Confederate lady spy and invited me to submit."

One of our B&W gals has a book that isn't finished. We encouraged her to put a page in the Idol workshop anyway. Jack Whyte read it to perfection and four agents requested. They didn't care if it was done. Finish it. Polish it. Send when it's ready.

I got some really good advice from C.C. Humphreys about writing historicals and some encouragement I needed in a blue pencil.

Jack Whyte had an excellent workshop on historical research and timelines.

I'm planning on hitting Surrey again this year, maybe another. Surrey is the go to because I know so many people who will be attending and it's a good conference. Otherwise, I always looks at what the workshops are and who is presenting. I look at these as classes where I can do some networking.

DLM said...

The writers conference I go to every year is the James River Writers Conference in VA. My first few years, it taught me enough to be dangerous (i.e., I can do this). Since then, it has been a great event just to meet people and see old friends. Every year, it energizes and inspires me, and leads to more writing. Hell, it led to me "really" writing at all. I owe JRW a great deal.

The panel discussions are wonderful, but sitting out a session or two is even better. You meet folks on their way to or from pitch sessions, or also just taking a breather; you get the chance to rest or, um, even actually to write.

JRW's conference generally coincides with and coordinates with the Virginia literary awards, so we've had the chance to share in the luncheon for that event, and seen Adriana Trigiani, Barbara Kingsolver, Tom Robbins, Jan Karon. And the food even tends to be good!

This last year, I tried to use a pitch session to discuss another aspect of my work, but the agent was either in her groove or perhaps thought I was being disingenuous in saying I didn't want to pitch her, so our conversation lost relevance after initial admiration of each other's jewelry. So I'll probably just skip pitching, unless we get the QOTKU, who will believe me if I say I'm not pitching her. :)

Conferences are best for the *education*, the people, and the lingering aftereffects in inspiration. They light a fire under you. I've absolutely heard of people meeting their agent at a conference (at JRW's, indeed). But that's not the reason to go. The investment is in something else.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

WD Conference in New York is how I discovered Janet, my queen. Best money I ever spent. So it's worth it. The pitching was fun, and I am better at pitching than querying. This does not guarantee an agent, but I really enjoyed it.

I learned more in Janet's one hour How to Write an Effective Query than I did with hours of online research. Also, from all the seminars and panels, if you are willing to look at your work critically, you will learn methods to really improve your work. At least, I did. You will also hear a lot about common pitfalls of the unpublished author and how to avoid them and how to overcome them. Of course, it is cheaper to just read this blog. However, I would do a conference again if it meant I could buy Janet a drink at the bar.

Susan said...

Joyce: Lancaster is my neck of the woods! I would love to attend a conference someday--and this one seems like a perfect opportunity, as it's literally right down the road--but finances are limited to needs-only for the foreseeable future, which is a bummer. I didn't know about this conference/group before--I'll have to keep an eye on them for later. It looks like there are a lot of great workshops here that could benefit a writer at any stage. Have fun if you decide to go!

Colin Smith said...

Caveat to any and all of my comments today: I've never been to an in-person conference. I've been to WriteOnCon a few times, which is an online writing conference, and while that was fun, I know it's not the same. Bouchercon, which I attended last year, is not a writing conference--though I got to meet Reiders, published authors, editors, and agents (incl. QOTKU).

Jason: Yes. I think an in-person writing conference would do me good, and I've been at this for a good few years now. There's nothing like being around people who share your experience and can help you along the way. Yes, you get that here. But there's something about that "in-person" dynamic that you just can't replicate online.

2Ns: I recognized Janet the moment she walked into the room. And it wasn't because I expected her (one of her clients was on the panel, and she tries to get to all the panels her clients are on), and it wasn't because Patrick Lee (nytba) was with her (I'm sure Patrick hangs out with lots of people--he's a nytba after all.) Janet is the one who'll walk into the room and look around as if to say, "I guess you're wondering why I summoned you." She exudes confidence. Heck, anyone who can walk into a restaurant and promote one of the table bussers to being her waitress for the night has a certain amount of chutzpah. And Janet has chutzpah in spades (if you hadn't cottoned on to that already). :) So, trust me--you'll know her when you see her. :)

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

*Cough* I think there is a typo here: "Does a coming to this writing conference" Maybe I'm wrong, but as the Queen asks us to point out these possible mistakes, I'm speaking up. And feeling miniscule.

Janet Reid said...

Thanks Angie! Yup, typo. I revised this almost completely late last night, and as usual when I do that: typos! Evil beasts. Thanks for helping me out here.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

OT sort of.
Janet please allow me to share.
I have writers’ butterflies and am poised at the edge of maybe I have gone too far.

Yesterday during our discussion about essay writing I mentioned that essayists are brave writers because we splay ourselves for readers.
Well, a couple of weeks ago I did that. At the time I wasn’t feeling very brave, I was tired frustrated and mad. Now I’m kind of scared. Will I lose my job?
I had second thoughts after I submitted that column, (rant), and really believed my editor would not run it. She did.
Published on the 29th it is inserted today and bundle dropped tomorrow.

This isn’t a shameless appeal for blog readers but for those of you who write essays and want to see an example of what kind of piece gets you direct deposit, and maybe a pink slip, check my Enough Said blog post.

I'll let you know what my boss says. She gets the paper I'm in. Oh boy.

DLM said...

2Ns, it's a great piece. I actually can't understand what anyone would fire you for, for that - the idea bewilders me. You are a worker, and you are proud ... that has always been the greatness of our country. You made me think of my own work, my brother's, my grandparents. And of those clerks and assistants I *know* in my community, because they are not faceless to me. The one who asks me where the dog is, or the one who asked me about my flu the other day. Did I read the wrong piece? Because the one at the top of the blog right now is not a firing offense. It's wonderful.

Brian Schwarz said...

I went to BEA one year and basically floundered around like a shark out of water for 6 hours. Lesson learned? BEA is not a writing conference. BEA is not for writers at all. Everyone is busy at BEA and asking anyone anything is sort of like trying to buy a BMW from a barista at Starbucks.

Granted, I was invited to BEA and I didn't spend any money, so basically I just blew a weekend of my time. But to say I was ill equipped is the understatement of the year.

Case in point - research the writing conference before going. Bring some printed materials (query/pages) and treat people like humans and not items at the meat market. You'll be just fine! :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Thanks DLM for you kind words. Because I am speaking directly to the public, aka customers, implications regarding how I am perceived by them may be considered less than respectful by management. Remember, they are always right, I am wrong.
I really don't want to hijack todays discussion, I had to share with the people I think will understand my angst. I'm off to work, out of touch.
Janet, thank you for this community. Today is a day I am so grateful I had you guys to turn to.

Susan said...

Carolynn: I agree with Diane; I thought your piece was wonderful. I've run the gamut as far as employment goes: I've worked in both retail (small stores and cafes) and in corporate culture, but I've always been happiest when I've been able to connect with customers, being of service to others. You're absolutely right that we're a rushed society now--it's easy to feel like we're invisible, even when walking down our own blocks. Especially in a job, where you want to feel that you've made a difference--some contribution to someone's day, to *something*--it's even harder to feel like you're not acknowledged. But, like I said yesterday in a different context, every single person is important. Everyone makes the world work in a different way. Sometimes, what we do seems meaningless, but that just means we can't see the ripples of our actions just yet. And there are always ripples.

As for being worried, I don't think you need to be. You wrote a beautiful, honest piece.

In the words of Maggie Kuhn: "Speak [your] truth, even if your voice shakes."

Colin Smith said...

2Ns: Yup, I'm with Diane. I see nothing worthy of a pink slip there. In fact, I hope your boss thanks you. :)

Timothy Lowe said...

I hear they're developing a new technology: a shot of bourbon you can send through e-mail. I wonder how that will impact the querying process?

Claire said...

Lovely piece, 2Ns, and certainly nothing remotely resembling a firable offence. You're championing the retail industry, if anything.

S.D.King said...

I attended a SCBWI conference and found it very helpful. I hope to attend another soon.

Not only did the sessions and panel discussions clear up a lot of questions, but I had lunch with Candace Fleming and dinner with Arthur Levine!

Lucie Witt said...

2N's, loved the piece. I'm an attorney/prof now but I include past retail gigs on my about page because they are part of what made me the hard worker I am, and I'm proud of them.

For any woodland creatures out there worrying because you can't attend a conference, worry not. They're nice and can be helpful, but not mandatory (in my humble opinion). The book is still the most important part.

Joyce Tremel said...

Susan, if you really want to go to the Pennwriters Conference, email the conference chair and see if they can help you out somehow. Maybe if you volunteer they can give you a discount--or maybe there's some kind of scholarship. I haven't attended for a few years so I don't remember if they do or not.

Julie Weathers said...


As suggested, I would contact the organizers and see if you can volunteer for a discounted. Even if you just volunteer, you'll meet people and probably get to sit in on some panels. It's a win-win.

I really hope you try to go. Conferences charge your batteries. Most are like mini writing campuses. Please do what you can to make it happen.

To everyone else. As far as recognizing Janet, that's easy. When you hear that, "But where's the scotch?" you're getting close. The table with Reacher Creatures fanning someone is it. Only Janet has Reacher Creatures.

The Sleepy One said...

I've worked at a few conferences and attended two others. In my experience I have to say the attendees that feel the most "successful" afterward are the ones that go for the education and camaraderie and don't put a ton of emphasis on pitching and/or set the goal of getting an agent or deal.

I'm personally a fan of one-on-one critiques. It will cost extra but the critiquer reads your work ahead of time and will give feedback based on your work. Getting a professional view of my work is much more valuable than someone listening to me talk (e.g. pitch).

One tip: don't carry your manuscript around unless you want to read it yourself. If an agent or editor does want it, s/he will give you instructions on sending it after the conference ends.

Another tip: even if its difficult, talk to people you don't know. Meeting other writers and developing a network of writer friends can give you a sense of community, and later a place to find critique partners and friends who understand both your frustrations *and* good news.

Hermina Boyle said...

Joyce: I agree. The Pennwriters' Conference is a great for all levels of writers, lots of workshops for new writers and those honing their craft.

I pitched at two Pennwriters' Conferences and both times the agents requested the first 50 pages. I didn't land an agent, but the brief feedback, both times, helped me revise with confidence.

And confidence is the keyword. Yeah, prepping for a pitch was heck, but doing it pushed my out of my woodland hide hole and got me talking about my manuscript. It forced me to know my work, and believe in my writing. And pitching helped me put a face and personality to a name.

Beyond pitching, I've found conferences to be great for making professional connections, attending workshops, and getting feedback from fellow writers. It helps when you set some goals for yourself before you attend.

Susan Bonifant said...

In yesterday's post Janet talked about the unsold projects we don't see, and that if we could, it might put a project's potential in perspective.

What I love about attending Grub Street's Muse in the Marketplace conference, other than meeting other writers and hearing great panel discussion, is hearing accomplished writers talk not just about their success, but the work they had to turn away from on the way. All those books under the bed.

I think it's a great takeaway, to see those parallels with accomplished writers who had their own rainy, blank-page days.

Craig said...

1) T'aint nuthin wrong with a coming. It can set the direction for many things in writing.

2) Would someone be kind enough to link Carolynn's story in these comments. I would also like to sing praises to a friend but I want to be sure I am on the right page.

3) I hope someday to be an invited and advertised guest at a Writing Conference. I hope it happens before my will crumbles and end up playing the fool at one I paid the admission price for.

4) Will turning "If you thwart the sale of biologic weapons to a terrorist group an exit strategy is recommended" into a refrain make me look like I am a pass around size bottle of nuts or do some good?

5)I thought you were a Scotch fan

Janet Reid said...

Carolynn's Blog Post which I think is gorgeous and should be required reading for anyone entering a store.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Carolynn, lovely! Your blog is exquisite.

BJ Muntain said...

I like writers conferences. You meet other writers - and if it's a good conference, there is a creative energy from being around a bunch of other writers that you can just soak in.

I don't mind pitching, either. Yes, I get nervous, but I've done it often enough that it gets easier. The conferences I've been to haven't had long lines to pitch to an agent - you sign up ahead of time and are given a specific time for your pitch. Pitching has been good for my self-confidence, and has helped me learn to talk about my book. (I've always been very shy about talking about my fiction - as though it's a secret shame that talking about it will make it public, and people will see how terrible I am. Like an embarrassing health problem. Pitching has helped with that.)

Jason: A writer's conference will do you a world of good at this point. At a good conference, you'll learn some craft, you'll learn some business, and you'll meet others at all stages in the writing game. Pitching or not, a good conference is definitely worthwhile.

Janet: One thing you didn't answer the OP - Would you recommend the WD Conference, whether pitching or not?

Julie: I'm hoping to get to Surrey this year. I was so disappointed last year, I don't think I've yet recovered. This year, Surrey is my priority.

EM: Thanks for your vote for WD. :) I, too, learned a lot from our queen in a session on queries. It was enlightening.

Sherry Howard said...

I just attended an online pitch session, with four agents, for kiddie lit. The education was in seeing the reactions of those agents to the pitches. There was no *poker face* involved. You could see when they were puzzled, dismayed, amused, etc. I learned a lot about pitching. I'm guessing these opportunities are rare outside of kiddie lit, but it was informative enough I've watched the replay several times. I really don't know why this isn't done more often: it lasted an hour or so and they listened to 30ish pitches and seemed to know immediately if they'd be interested.

Sometimes connecting via a conference is the only way to pitch a dream agent, and some people have a narrow focus of the agent they want. (I know, JR, I know.)

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Not much to add here. I've not been to a writer's conference yet. Issues of money or time. But when I go, I will be going to improve my craft of writing and see if I know how to get around my tongue-tied-ness with new people in a new type of setting in a new professional arena.

2Ns-great column. You are a voice for those who sometimes feel voiceless.

Em-Musing said...

I love going to writer conferences and love to pitch. Guess it's the adrenaline rush thing. Last conference I went to, I pitched three times, got three "send us more." Problem? My pitching was better than my manuscript. It wasn't ready to be seen by an agent or publisher. Lesson learned! And you're a sweetie if you're accepting of a writer coming up to talk to you while you're relaxing. I know that's what conferences are for, but still...

Donnaeve said...

I've never attended a writer's conference, like Colin the only "writerly thing" I've attended was Bouchercon. That's not to say I wouldn't. I've heard good and bad things about them, but I think it's up to the individual to make it what they want it to be.

I too, loved 2N's piece and I don't see it as pink slip worthy at all. But you all know me by now I think. I put a different spin on it. Just chalk it up to having had my fill of being on the other side of it.


Susan said...

Joyce: Thanks, I appreciate the idea! I just sent the coordinator an email inquiring about possible volunteer opportunities.

Julie: I agree--I hate the idea of missing out on an opportunity like this, especially when it's right in my hometown. I was part of a book reading/signing with other local authors back in December--talking craft and story with people who have the same passions just ignited me. I'd love to go to a conference to learn, but also to be surrounded by that excitement. Writing is great, but it's so solitary. To be able to share that love of it is like soul food. And I'm always hungry ;)

Jenz said...

I've loved the conferences I've attended. But there is definitely an upward limit of how much I can justify spending on classes, conferences, books, and conventions. I can't possibly afford everything that's good for me as a writer.

Sorry, I hate to be the lone downer, but cost is a big consideration for me with this kind of thing, and it doesn't seem to come up very often when people talk about how important conferences are.

The Sleepy One said...

Jenz, cost is definitely a big consideration. The organizers behind the event are most likely aware of it as well. When I was part of the organizers behind a conference, keeping it affordable was one of our priorities. It was also one of my biggest jobs (negotiating with the facility and figuring out ways to minimize costs).

I love it when organizations offer smaller events, like one-day bootcamps or free-to-minimal cost lecture series. You get some of the benefit of a conference (like a lecture on craft, the chance to meet fellow writers, etc) without the time and money commitment of a conference. One-day events are great because there's enough content to make a longer drive worth it, but you don't have to rent a hotel room unless you want to.

Side note: I started following Janet after hearing one of her clients speak a couple of years ago at a local lecture series.

JSF said...

I agree that 2N's is a must read. E.M. Goldsmith has a new one that's a must read for me too. Nice way to start the day. Thank you! I wonder if this is like they say about shark bites or dying while buried in snow - after the fear, you just get kinda warm and fuzzy inside. Comfortable.

I'm yet to go to a conference, but now I feel better about it. A Carrion Bird agenda for me.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Thank you all for your kind words an especially Janet for the link. You guys lift me up.

Karen McCoy said...

To answer Jason's question, I think E.M. Goldsmith said it best. Panels, panels, and more panels.

That, and critiques. Critiques are gold, and I've learned ten-fold more from critiques than I have from pitches. A pitch teaches you how to pitch. And a pitch does not necessarily increase opportunity (a misnomer that may be one reason why pitch sessions are still around).

Also curious about WD this year--I'm definitely hoping to go, but not sure if scheduling will allow for it.

Karen McCoy said...

And thank you 2Ns, for your beautiful post.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

JSF- wow, thank you. That is so kind.

If I can pull together the funds, I will probably do WD conference again. It really was a lot of fun just to be around other writers and so many people who love reading.

Colin Smith said...

I wonder if people still have unrealistic expectations about face-to-face encounters with agents? Certainly, pitching an agent could get you a request for pages. And agents are more disposed to requesting at conferences. But you still have to write a novel they want to represent. Offers of rep happen at conferences, but from what I understand, it's not common, and it's never without the agent being impressed with the work offered. In other words, you still have to write a cracking good novel, whether you query, pitch, or buy the agent drinks.

When I had my 15 minutes with Jessica Faust at Bouchercon, given the nature of the event, I was taken completely off-guard when she asked me about my WiP. Miraculously (and I mean that quite literally) I was able to rattle of a quick pitch totally off the top of my head. We talked a bit about it after, and she offered some suggestions for the novel. As we were parting ways, she didn't ask for a full, neither did she whip out a BookEnds contract for me to sign. I asked her if I should query her, and she said yes. Would I have queried her anyway? Probably. But it was nice to hear that. :)

So, echoing what's been said before, I wouldn't go to a conference expecting to get an agent or a pub deal. I would go for the opportunity to meet people, learn things, and be encouraged and inspired. Anything else is the cherry on the icing on the cake. :)

nightsmusic said...

I've attended the Emerald City conference a few times now and while I had some luck with the 'pitch' session, the panels and discussions were invaluable as well as the speakers they'd brought in. Spending money on conferences for learning experiences and networking is one thing. I would definitely encourage that. But spending money for a pitch session? Query, query, query! More effective in the long run. And way cheaper. At least, I think so.

John Frain said...

Wow, great information to read. I'm gawking. This helps me set expectations as I'm planning to hit a conference (or two) this year. I like the idea of learning about craft, questioning people in the field and finding inspiration. Anything else, like discovering an agent, is just a bonus.

Anyone here thinking about the Chicago Writing Workshop in May? Just curious as it's on my radar and looks to have several interesting workshops among its offerings.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

*pushes a shot of Pappy van Winkle across the bar*

Julie Weathers said...


We, meaning the B&W crew, visit with the volunteers, wait staff, hotel people all through the Surrey conference. I'm sure other people do at other conferences. Everyone appreciates the volunteers so much, especially.

There's always a volunteer or two in each class or panel, so you get to listen to those. You get to meet great people, agents, authors, editors, other volunteers.

Please do see if you can at least volunteer. The excitement if nothing else will do you good. Of course, after all the hard work you'll need a vacation, but it's worth it.

Adib Khorram said...

Top Five Reasons to Go to Writing Conferences:

#5: Ribbons! Just kidding. You don't want to be that guy who wears a joke ribbon to the conference only to find out that the conference isn't even DOING ribbons. Then the joke is on you.

#4: Making friends and connections. I've gotten to meet authors I admire—and find new authors to admire—at conferences. And I've met other writers who are on the same journey as me, and we still stay in touch via Twitter and things. Writing is a lonely business, but it's better with friends.

#3: Workshops! Keynote addresses! Critiques! There are so many incredible opportunities to hone your craft.

#2: The search for an agent (and, I imagine, for an editor) is incredibly impersonal. All you do is stare at your screen and wait for emails. But getting to meet agents and editors and put a face on that side of the business is, dare I say it, comforting. One of my favorite experiences at Midwest Writers was sitting next to Janet discussing Thai food.

#1: Where else can you go where everyone* around you is as passionate about writing as you are? Even if you stay in the corner by yourself and never interact with anyone, the atmosphere alone is incredible.

*Except that one guy who walked around with his shirt half-unbuttoned, chewing gum and evading every question asked of him. Apparently his boss at the add agency made him come.

Joseph Snoe said...

Compared to other professional conferences I’ve attended, writers’ conference panel discussions don’t add much. The panelists repeat the basics. Though at each conference I attended there was one session that proved beneficial (Karleen Koen in Austin (a workshop, not a panel) and the brutal one page reading session in Birmingham)

To me, it is worthwhile to meet and speak with other writers struggling to create something. Their personal stories often are more fascinating to me than their books.

I would like to attend the WD conference and Thrillerfest someday.

Joseph Snoe said...


Similar experience. I can be A-Musing in person I guess.

I’ve been to two writing conferences (a weekend affair in Austin and a one day meeting in Birmingham). I pitched to three agents in Austin and none in Birmingham.

Yet somehow four agents in Austin and one in Birmingham ask for my manuscript (and I'm terrible at social hour networking). The four in Austin rejected it. I told the one in Birmingham it’s not ready for submission.

I’ve sent a dozen query letters with no request for pages.

So I see a benefit to pitching at conferences if you've really got your manuscript in super-great shape.

Lennon Faris said...

Just the thought of a conference makes me excited. So hoping to go to one some day. I'd be too starstruck to carry a pitch appropriately, though, so I'm glad there doesn't seem to be too much support for that portion here.

Cool article, 2N's - if your boss fires you for that, she ought to be fired. And sent back to retail. And maybe spanked by her mom.

Steph said...

Lovely blog entry, Carolynn. All the rushing and following of mental to-do lists makes it far too easy to forget to treat people like people!

Christina Seine said...

Not all conferences are created alike, either. The Writers Digest NY conference last summer was wonderful (Oh gawd I love NYC!), but the emphasis (I found) was really on pitching. Meeting Janet was the highlight of the whole conference for me, and her session on querying was the best and most informative there (no, of course I'm not biased). And I got to meet other Reiders and become friends with Julie (hi Julie!). But many of the workshops (and this is only MY opinion) were geared more toward ... well if it was a college these would be the 100-level classes. Other conferences I've attended, like the Willamette conference in Portland, offered workshops that would fit more into 300-level classes, if that makes sense.

I hope that doesn't come across as snobbish; that's not my intent. But there is a definite difference in the kind of workshops offered at different conferences, and if you're going to fork over a LOT of money to attend one, make sure you really research what speakers will be presenting and what kind of presentation they will be doing. Look at other talks they've given if you can, and make sure they will really be speaking to the kind of things you're there to learn.

And lastly, back to the pitch sessions. Agents REALLY, REALLY want to say yes to you at pitch sessions. Sure I've seen people get lots of rejections, and I've gotten them too. But understand that you're usually only pitching the concept and maybe the premise of your book, not your ability to carry it off. Sort of like saying, "My restaurant serves Mexican food." Who doesn't love Mexican food? An agent at a pitch session can't tell if you know a tortilla from a tamale, and they're thinking, "Damn! Margaritas sound perfect right now." So they're going to say, "OK, send me your query and a couple of chapters," and then go hit the bar. But if you just queried that same agent from the comfort of your own desk chair, in your own comfy bunny slippers, you'd probably send them your query and first few chapters anyway. Now if you can say, "My restaurant serves Mexican food made using ancient Mayan and Spanish recipes handed down from the mistress of Jaun Valdez, and our margaritas are served with gold salt on the rim," an agent might say, "Holy guacamoli! This is what I've been searching for all my life! Send this to my personal email - I'll be holding my breath!" or something like that. And you might go to the head of the line. That's pretty much the best case scenario at a conference.

Unless, of course, you have a fairy godmother. If you do, email me.

Celia Reaves said...

Carolynn, I loved your blog post. Both of my kids and my daughter's boyfriend work or have worked in retail for years. The stories they tell! At our house, Thanksgiving is for gathering strength for Black Friday (and don't get me started on stores that start the sales on Thanksgiving Day). Bless you, and all the others in the retail trenches. Invisible, but vital.

Mark Ellis said...

In my experience, both at the bar and the session, agents/editors/Hollywooders are more likely to ask for a send simply because of the face-to-face interaction. After that it's pretty much like any query; they either ask for a full, partial or whatever, decline, often with a note, because they've actually met you, or, you hear nothing at all.

I pitched Ladder Memory to a big-time agent at a conference once, and her note said, "I don't see a big enough market here for representation, but I enjoyed reading your manuscript, and it came at the perfect time...I was painting my apartment the weekend that I read it."

Julie Weathers said...


I can be A-Musing in person I guess.--

Yes, you can.

I'm sorry you didn't get much out of your conference.

"The panelists repeat the basics."

I think it depends on which conference you go to. I usually get something out of every place I go. It really helps if you can network so you have others taking notes in workshops you can't attend.

One workshop I attended in Surrey was kind of interesting because she had us write flash fiction from the point of view of an object. Write down ten words and the emotion they evoke. Then write sentences where we come into a room, look around, and said hello to each object then wrote a sentence or two about it and the emotion. Then write a paragraph and finally expand it into a flash fiction. It was amazing at the difference between the first flash fiction with the ten words and the second after the emotion exercise.

It was a little thing, but kind of eye-opening.

Anyway, I always come away with something. Perhaps I'm the Christmas puppy and it's just taking a while to paper train me. Writing is the craft no one ever masters, as Hemingway says.

AJ Blythe said...

Wowzers. Loads of comments again today. Just don't have time to read them all =( Apologies if I restate what's been said.

OP, I go to a writing conference every year and always leave with renewed enthusiasm for my writing. We're an isolated profession and, while it is wonderful having cyber connections with other writers, it's lovely to chat face-to-face with others who 'get' everything you are going through. Even if you don't know anyone, the perfect ice-breaker is to ask 'what do you write'.

We're always learning in this profession, so go to a conference for everything else you can take away. Pitching is just one tiny part.

On pitching... I've pitched at most conferences. At first I pitched in the traditional sense. Than I became a Reider. Now I 'pitch' to have 5 mins 1-on-1 with an editor/agent who reps what I write (how brilliant is that!). I tell them upfront I want to Q&A rather than pitch and to-date they have all been perfectly happy to talk/answer questions. Much less stressful as well!

On the flip side, without fail they've ended the time asking for a submission. In fact, I think I've had a better success rate since I stopped pitching.

Peggy Larkin said...

I met Janet very briefly at the Midwest Writers Workshop last July, and very much enjoyed hearing her speak on querying (I had read most of it on QueryShark already, but she's at least as funny in person as she is online, so I went to her panel anyway, and it was definitely worthwhile!). I also pitched to Brooks Sherman, and he was delightful (I had signed up to pitch before finding QueryShark--whoops!). The questions he asked while gently rejecting my pitch were very helpful in revision. :)

Anyway, that conference was GREAT, with lots of practical advice and networking opportunities (and a big contrast to a writers' retreat I had attended earlier that year at Bard College, which was more of the "100-level" stuff, as Christina Seine put it). I highly recommend MWW for anybody in the region!

I would love to go again this year, but cost is an issue and I'm using it as a reward to myself for actually finishing my MS--no more conference until the MS is done! I don't regret paying to go once without a finished MS, but I think I'll get more value out of a conference like MWW once this MS is done (and I've started on the next one, of course!).

Julie Weathers said...


I'm sorry, I missed your comment earlier. I hope you get to make it this year. Looking forward to seeing you.

Theresa said...

Christina, I know what you mean about the workshops. I went to a conference a couple of years ago, and while the overall experience was positive, the workshops were disappointing because they didn't fit my particular needs. But at least that told me what I need are actual classes or workshops. I signed up for one of those this coming June--five blissful days of writing and critiquing in a small group.

2NNs, that was a fabulous column. I worked retail in high school and college, and moved into retail management after I graduated. In less than a year I decided I needed to go to graduate school. My sister has made a career of retail, though, and what you've written is just spot-on.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

I am geographically challenged. Unless a conference shows up in the Perth Metro area, it can cost me a lot of money and time to go to a con.

Still, I do my best to get to them when I can.

The value of attending cons/workshops/etc: networking!

Honestly, you can't beat the value of networking for helping you in your career path. Networking is so much more than first-level help in your career advancement. It's the opening of opportunities you might not have considered. It's the human connections that could open doors, or at least point to windows. It's the raising of your brand awareness.

I go to cons to sit in the corner and have a conversation with someone. Everyone has something valuable to offer. The conversation with a potential reader is as valuable as nattering about life over a bourbon in the bar with Her Sharkness.

I once had a lovely conversation with a PhD about the process and value of pursuing my own doctorate. She gave me info I would never have thought to ask for or google on my own.

This is the value of networking. People will tell you the things you didn't even consider asking about.

Also, never underestimate the value of putting your charming self on display. Yes, social skills are a useful tool for the author's toolbox.

Be nice to people, listen to them, have a ready laugh, be pleasant. When people learn you're a nice person *and* they learn you're an author, the chances of them reading your stuff increases. You definitely want this. (Fr'ex, look at how many of us headed off to read 2Ns' retail post. It's because we know her as an interesting and nice person.)

F2F pitches with agents, for me, is more a networking opportunity, rather than convincing them they want to read my book. How often have we dreamt of getting answers over why an agent would reply to an email query with a form letter? A pitch is an opportunity to get just that kind of feedback.

Okay, workshops and panels and other official programming tracks can have first-level benefits to your mastery of the craft. But do not think that this is the only benefit (or the best benefit) of a conference. Sometimes establishing your reputation as a smart, funny, nice person is invaluable.

Brian M. Biggs said...

I’m fairly new to this blog and I would like to thank you Janet for all the work you do with the Friday prompt contests, your answers to posts, comments here, and for all your time spent with this group.

I agree with Adib, Conferences are a great place to meet and network with other writers.

It’s so cool that everyone here seems like they’re friends. Maybe you all have been to that bar for a bourbon.

Colin Smith said...

Since EM refuses to do the newbie welcome, I guess it's up to me:

Welcome to the comments of Janet's blog, Brian M. Biggs. I hope your experience will be fun and rewarding, and not simply an extension of the pit of despair in which you currently reside, if you are a writer like the rest of us.

On the top right of the blog, you will find some useful links. If you want to understand some of the odd, seemingly meaningless words we like to throw around (e.g., "QOTKU", "Carkoon", "synopsis"), there is a glossary you can use for reference. If you wish to become further identified with the regular commenters, there's a list of Blog Commenters and their Blogs. Please contact me to be added to that list. Christina Seine has created a lovely Pintrest page you can be added to, and if you want us to know generally where you are in the world, you can add yourself to the map.

On behalf of my fellow commenters, and Mighty QOTKU herself, I hope your time with us is both pleasant and... um... educational.

Seriously, welcome, Brian! :D

Brian M. Biggs said...

Thank you Colin,

I appreciate the welcome and will investigate. said...

Brian, what magnificent gardens you have. And what a talent for oration and storytelling. I especially loved The Black Horse and your Scots accent while delivering it, and was moved to tears by the tribute to your friend John (yes, I watched all your videos). Welcome, new friend. *slides a glass of bourbon down the virtual bar* I hope you'll become a regular.

Brian M. Biggs said...

Thank you kdjames, That means a lot to me that you took the time to watch those videos. Glad to be here.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I pitched a few agents. The first time I shook like a Jack Russell, even my voice. The agent's terror of me was obvious. Like I was going to fly around the room and zap him. The second was an agent from Foundry Media. She was fantastic and instead of pitching I showed her my query. She seemed genuinely interested and asked me to query her.

As EM said, "always leave with renewed enthusiasm for my writing"

After pitching I finished my first draft and revised.

I'd love to go to the US writing conferences. The networking. Buy a drink for Janet, assuming she's wearing her name tag and it's not someone else. In another life.

Carolynn, What a beautiful essay. I loved working in retail. But bartending was more fun. We were authorised to kick people out of the bar. I even kicked my future husband out.